With little more than pride at stake, Grilled set out to take newly-crowned league champions Robbie Football Club down a peg at their own burgeoning stadium, but would wind up humbled themselves. The local fans would enjoy a feast for the eyes, though, as the Birds were not lacking for attacking intent, at the very least.
RFC had not lost a competitive match in months, however, with the lone exception being a narrow 4-5 reverse to JUtd in the quarterfinals of the Ruby Challenger Cup; before that, one would have to go all the way back to the very start of the season, where they suffered consecutive defeats to Joker 9B and Grilled themselves.
This could, of course, be in large part be attributed to their iron defence, which has recorded four clean sheets in the last five league matches. Expertly marshalled by sweeper Pedro Luis Regueyra, it has been rated by some to be on a par with Farmer Bunnies' own - to the Birds' disfavour, with them having a very hard time against such setups in recent times.
RFC were further decent enough at holding the fort in midfield, and although the Birds made a few inroads down the flanks in open initial play, the visitors would be first to draw blood. And it wasn't even Grilled's fault, as Norwegian defender Morten Jensen's long pass out of defence fell just brilliantly for Mieczysław Klimczyk, missing Yuta Nakakita
's desperate lunge by an inch. Klimczyk would slot it in at the near post, right before being closed down by Hoàng Trung Quá
Grilled rallied with rabid home support behind them, and RFC were arguably fortunate to survive the next ten minutes unscathed. With RFC taking their feet of the pedal a bit, Florus Romijn
was allowed to wander freely to the edge of the box, where he first-timed a scorcher narrowly over the bar in the 23rd. A couple of minutes later, Chan Ze Han
squeezed in an effort that a defender deflected lightly past Nicolas Lefrançois, but only onto the goalpost. The goalie hastened to put it out of touch.
While some RFC players such as Poleg Lotan had an excellent day, with Lotan proving cool as ice in herding Islom Davlatov
aside several times, it would be Jensen who simply dominated the eye. He was somehow at the spearhead of an explosive RFC counter on the half-hour, before turning villian in an instant, as he accidentally caught the ball in his arms when going to ground against Kalki Parvathaneni
at the other end. Indonesian referee Salim Kuncoro's verdict was a yellow card and a penalty, which Cyril Künzler
put away without undue drama.
A one-one scoreline felt fair at half-time, but it came with the unsettling feeling that the Birds were a lot more vulnerable on defence. For their part, Robbie were content with playing the percentages by setting up reasonable shots from outside the penalty area, and although Valentin Batâr
hadn't let any past him, a few could have left him troubled had they been hit slightly harder.
RFC's second would not come via that route, though it would be an indirect cause. English playmaker Alf Lamont, often their further man forward, forced Batâr to tip one over with a fine strike in the 49th minute, and Chinese star Zulpukar Rehim inserted himself between two Grilled players, to polish off the inswinging corner.
Their objective again met, RFC turned back to defence, which left Grilled battering themselves against a brick wall. Moey Xin Seng
went for both short and long passes, as he probed unceasingly for vulnerabilities in the visitors' coverage, but he would be left disappointed more often than not.
RFC did have a few serious attacks of their own, and they appeared all but certain to go further ahead, when Tomasz Krużołek was put through by Zulpukar, as he was played on by a retreating Hoàng. Valentin Batâr
prevented the goal with a heroic effort, but it was all he could do to clutch the ball to his chest, as he writhed in agony. The medics rushed on, and it was soon clear that Krystian Rykowski
would have to replace the stricken goalkeeper.
This change certainly wouldn't help the Birds in their quest to equalise, and after another eight minutes or so of fruitless pinging, Djan Bacelar
rolled the dice with a double substitution. Chu Xin Lee
and Hoàng Trung Quá
came off, leaving Mohammad Ramli Saliman
and Yuki Irie
tasked with finding a goal - and soon.
While RFC would scare the home fans with Krużołek's dinky lob in response, Bacelar's decision would not take too long to come good. Eighty minutes in, Moey Xin Seng
would manufacture one for the highlight reels, as he span one way while flicking the ball in the other direction, bewitching the entire opposition backline. It would be none less than the fresh Mohammad Ramli Saliman
who picked up on Moey's intent, and the returning midfielder confidently teased Lefrançois out, before levelling with the inside of his boot.
Sadly, the Birds would not be able to hold on to that, as RFC sealed the match with their third goal. Pouring forward straight from the kick-off, well against Grilled's expectations, they had the disorganized Birds piled up deep in their own box after a series of blocked strikes. Up came Poleg Lotan to square it to the indefatigable Morten Jensen, who crashed the ball in off the underside of the crossbar from distance.